Estate planning is about taking care of the future: making sure that your family and loved ones are protected and that your assets are transferred in the manner you want them to be. But what about your health? What happens if you become incapacitated or are too ill to make decisions about your own medical care? By including a Medical Power of Attorney in your estate plan, you ensure that your own wishes are honored regarding the type of healthcare you want if you cannot make those decisions. Moreover, a well-crafted Medical Power of Attorney takes much of the burden off family members who would otherwise have to make decisions on your behalf by making your preferences known.
What is a Medical Power of Attorney?
A Medical Power of Attorney is as critical as a Will when it comes to ensuring a complete and effective estate plan. In short, this is a legal document that allows you to appoint a representative who has the authority to act on your behalf should you become incapacitated or so ill that you are no longer capable of making choices about your own medical care. This differs from a Living Will, which is intended to spell out wishes if you are in a permanent state of incapacity; such as whether you would want to be put on life support.
Is there a difference between Power of Attorney and Durable Medical Power of Attorney?
A general Power of Attorney is limited in scope and automatically ends when the grantor (the person giving authority) dies or becomes incapacitated. It may also have a set expiration date. In most cases, a Power of Attorney is just that: it remains in force for a lifetime unless it is revoked.
A Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care differs from a general Power of Attorney in that it is effective through incapacity. A Non Durable Power of Attorney ends upon incapacity.
What is an Attorney-in-Fact?
An attorney-in-fact is simply the person you authorize to make medical decisions on your behalf. It is also referred to as an agent or health care proxy. When choosing the person who you want to entrust with these decisions, considerations may include:
- Will this person be comfortable making decisions based on your wishes, even if they differ from their own?
- Will they be able to advocate for you in the face of opposition from others?
- Will they be at ease asking questions of medical providers?
- Will they ask about treatment options they don’t understand?
- Can they keep calm in the face of a medical crisis?
The person you appoint to handle your medical affairs must be at least 18 years of age and mentally competent. While they do not need to reside in Washington State, they should be readily available in case of a medical emergency. You can name an “alternate” who can make decisions in the event that your primary representative is unable to do so. Your attorney-in-fact does not need to be a lawyer. Most people choose a family member or trusted friend who meets the legal requirements.
Who cannot be appointed as an attorney-in-fact for health care? Neither your physician or any of his or her employees; any owner, administrator, operator or employee of a nursing home or other health care facility in which you are a patient; nor is any home-care provider legally eligible.
Who needs a Medical Power of Attorney in the State of Washington?
A Medical Power of Attorney is a type of advance directive: a written document that spells out your wishes regarding medical care if you are unable to communicate them to your doctor. What would happen if you were in a car accident, had a stroke or were in a coma, or otherwise rendered unable to let your family or medical team know the type of treatment you want…or do not want? For instance, you may wish to be cared for in a specific facility or may wish to have in-home care. You may want life-saving surgery but choose not to be put on life support.
A Medical Power of Attorney document can:
- Bring peace of mind for your loved ones
- Help in cases of major surgery should decisions need to be made while you are under anesthesia
- Address any issues associated with a progressive neurologic disease such as Alzheimer’s
Because life is unpredictable, a Medical Power of Attorney is a necessary document for every adult; not just the elderly.
What happens if you do not have a Medical Power of Attorney?
When there is no clear, legal, written direction as to how you want your medical treatment conducted should you be incapacitated, it can lead to conflict between family members as to who has the right to make decisions. Your family may not remember the choices you expressed or may interpret them based on their own religious or moral beliefs. It may also lead to conflict between family and your doctors regarding treatment options. While a Living Will spells out your end-of-life wishes, it does not address health care decisions that might be necessary in cases of temporary incapacity.
Unfortunately, when there is no legal documentation, the courts may intervene. This can be both a financially and emotionally buder.
Let our experienced Medical Power of Attorney lawyers help you document your health care wishes
Every adult, whether 18 or 80 or older, will have peace of mind knowing that their choices about their own health care are ensured. Our lawyers help you create a Medical Power of Attorney that reflects your intentions. We can also help you to make changes to an existing document. To learn more and to schedule a free consultation, please call us at (509) 325-5222 or contact us online.